Re: [asa] The term Darwinism

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Jun 25 2009 - 15:47:21 EDT


I share your wish that contemporary advocates of TE (to leave aside others,
though they could fairly be included) would take the time to become more
familiar with the history of evolution, including some of the more widely
held forms of TE that have existed. Your citation of Asa Gray and Henri
Bergson are apropos. I also echo your call for folks to become familiar
with the criticisms of reductionistic science advanced by Lecomte du Nouy,
whose work was especially appreciated by Robert Millikan, the most famous
American scientists of his generation.

You say that Bergson's interpretation of evolution (in terms of what he
called an "elan vitale") "would of course be ruled out by TEs as
'unscientific' (though it might be allowed as a metaphysical opinion)," and
perhaps you are right -- depending on which contemporary TEs you are
thinking of. It was not Darwinian, of course, and that is probably what you
are getting at. Do you consider Conway Morris to be Darwinian? His view
does not equate to Bergson's, but it does seem to have a mechanistic
equivalent of an elan vitale. At the time, obviously, Bergson was quite
influential; many TEs embraced it, and it's neither helpful nor historically
accurate to define TE in such a way as to say that Bergson does not qualify
as one. (I know you aren't doing that, Cameron, you are simply alluding to
those who would do that.) A TE need not be a Darwinian, or else Asa Gray
wouldn't count as a TE and that IMO is a reductio ad absurdum to such a
definition of TE.

Two specific individuals who liked Bergson's view, incidentally, were
physicist Arthur Compton and his father Elias, a philosopher and
psychologist who was the first acaedemic dean at the College of Wooster. I
wrote about this in the latest issue of PSCF. I quoted extensively from
that essay in the post I wrote a few weeks ago that got badly mangled, so
what they said did not come through well; but they were both examples of the
definition of TE that I offered: someone who believes that God used
evolution to create humans and other organisms. To the best of my
knowledge, Arthur Compton continued to view evolution that way his whole
life, including after the synthesis of the 1930s though he wrote very little
about it after the war.

And, I also affirm what Brooke says about "Darwinism" in his essay in the
same issue. It was a commonly used word, not meant pejoratively as it has
often been used in recent years.


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Received on Thu Jun 25 15:48:07 2009

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